Sitting across the table from Michele Bachman, the first thing you notice is that she is not the wild-eyed nut job that she is portrayed as in the mainstream media.
She is sincere in her Christian beliefs that drive some of the social positions the media finds “controversial,” and she can expound on free-market economics, federal regulatory intrusion and complicated federal-tax code with a detailed comfort just short of actual eloquence. But she does her expounding with enthusiasm and intensity — she believes what she believes and believes it deeply.
To those easily swayed by the next clever idea conjured by some professor with too much time on his tenured hands, this is seen as crazyville. She is not crazy. She deeply believes some basic tenets about this country and is undoubtedly closer to mainstream American thought than many in the media and on the left who deride her positions as polarizing.
During her weekend swing through Florida, the Minnesota congresswoman met with The Observer.
Bachmann may be sinking in the polls since the entrance of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, but someone forgot to tell that to nearly 1,000 people in Sarasota who stood in sweltering August heat on a Sunday afternoon to get into the Sahib Temple and listen to her. Raucus, loud, cheering. She certainly struck a chord within the Republican base in Sarasota.
Bachmann played a crowd ready to be played — a metaphor, perhaps, for the country as a whole — ready for “change” that has some “umph” behind it. She may be stretching to reach 5 feet, 2 inches in height, but she brings the “umph.”
Because of her socially conservative positions, she attracted the prerequisite college-kid protesters across the street.
Interestingly, it does not seem to be her strong pro-life positions triggering the animosity. Is it possible the heat of that issue is slowly dying on the left as more scientific evidence mounts as to what that “fetus” really is?
The most virulent opposition is on the gay issue, and the two dozen or so New College kids protesting with a “kiss in” — don’t ask — across the street were focused almost exclusively on the gay issue. There were a few inside the event, too. They blended in nicely with the beards, pony tails, tie-dyed shirts and sandals. To their credit, they didn’t heckle, just mostly looked agog at all those strange creatures around them generally known as conservatives. They don’t see such things on campus. And by way of observation, they hung out with the media covering the event. That is their comfort zone.
Asked on her campaign bus about how she handles the hate she gets, particularly from the gay community, her answer is disarmingly humble. “I ascribe honor and dignity to every human being. I’m not better than anyone else. If a person calls himself a gay or a lesbian, I don’t see him as any less than myself.”
Inside the campaign bus, we asked her about privatization, a growing trend in local government for saving taxpayers’ money.
She gets that there are so many things that private organizations can do better than government.
For instance, in response to Hurricane Irene, she pointed out churches and many private groups that already were responding and asked somewhat rhetorically how long it would take for FEMA to respond. Perhaps the folks in New Orleans could best answer that question.
Some of her ideas appear to be far outside the Republican mainstream — or what was once the Republican mainstream, before the Tea Party was awakened. But getting rid of the EPA and the Department of Education is gaining credibility. No one wants air pollution, and education has done nothing but decline since President Carter created the DoE.
Nominated or not, she is putting an exclamation point on the ongoing dissatisfaction with Washington, D.C.
Rod Thomson is Editorial Pages Editor of the East County Observer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.